A woman whose son shot himself while on active duty as a U.S. Marine is fighting to have his name engraved on a local plaque to honor his service and change how the federal government handles military deaths.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Reber enlisted when he was just 18 and served four tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen before killing himself in August 2014 at the age of 29, reports the Long Beach Press Telegram. But because he died by suicide, he is ineligible for the Honoring Our Fallen Memorial Wall and any other local, state and national memorials, because the U.S. Department of Defense does not list him or any other suicide victims as being killed in the line of duty.
"He had a military funeral with a 21-gun salute and full honors, but yet I can't get him on a wall so people can see his name and know he gave his life for his country," his mother Debra Reber told the Press Telegram. "That's not right."
Debra is petitioning President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to change that policy. As of the afternoon of May 30, more than 38,600 people have signed the petition to "honor all fallen soldiers on memorial walls" as a way to bring attention to the veterans and active-duty soldiers who die by suicide every day, she wrote on The Petition Site.
"This is wrong and needs to change," she added. "Our military men and women give up so much to proudly defend our country. They perform their duty and should be recognized, not discriminated against. There is an epidemic in this country and we are losing our loved ones to it."
Like many who served and are serving in the military, Jeffrey suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of horrific experiences he lived through, including one moment when he shot and killed a 10-year-old who was pointing a gun at him, Debra told ABC News.
"I want all military men and women to be recognized regardless of how they died," Debra said, according to KTTV. " … Even though he took his life and it was suicide I will never be ashamed to say that. I'm proud of what my son's done and been through."
Laura Herzog, who runs military memorial site Honoring Our Fallen, said that a number of families affected by military suicide prefer to remain private and do not wish for their sons, daughters and parents to be listed as having died in the line of duty.
"Suicide is a very delicate subject," Herzog said. "I understand that she wants that, but not all family members who lose their loved one to suicide want to do that."
Herzog told KABC that the memorial will also include a plate that honors those who suffered from PTSD, although it will not include any names.
"We fight for our kids," said Debra. "My son fought for his country. I'll continue to fight."